Two Reasons Why The Darren Wilson Grand Jury Did Not Reach The Right Decision

A lot of people, good people, believe that the grand jurors did the right thing when they did not indict Darren Wilson for any crime related to his killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson. I’m not one of those people, as you all know. Neither is MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.

In my last attempt to change minds on this matter, I post below two segments from O’Donnell’s “The Last Word” program from earlier in the week. The first segment has to do with the witnesses in the case, centered on the one known as “Witness #10,” who ostensibly corroborated Officer Wilson’s testimony and who ostensibly was beyond impeachment.

The second segment has to do with a Missouri statute, dealing with a police officer’s use of legal force in making an arrest. Just before Officer Wilson’s hours of testimony, prosecutors presented to the jurors, either mistakenly or intentionally, that state statute, which had been written to authorize the reasonable use of deadly force against a suspect running away from a police officer. Later on the prosecutors had to tell the jurors that they may not want to “necessarily rely on that because there is a portion of that that doesn’t comply with the law.” Yes, because that “portion”—the portion which authorized the use of deadly force against a fleeing suspect—was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

I urge all of you, those of you who think the grand jury did the right thing, those of you who may not be sure, and those of you who just want to know a little more about what happened inside that grand jury room, to watch these two segments:

 

“We All Go Through Something In Life”

That’s a good thing that you just giving up, and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life.

—Antoinette Tuff, bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., speaking to would-be mass murderer Michael Brandon Hill

while many news outlets are, rightly, focusing on the revelation that the National Rifle Association has secretly—I repeat: secretly—collected “information about gun owners from state and local offices and has built the country’s largest privately held database of current, former and prospective gun owners,” Clare Kim began an article on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell blog this way:

A 20-year-old man who went to a Georgia elementary school with an AK-47 assault rifle and close to 500 rounds ammunition told a school clerk that he was prepared to die in the attack. But the woman calmly persuaded him to lay down his weapon. According to 911 tapes released Wednesday, Michael Brandon Hill said he didn’t care about dying and should have just gone to a mental hospital.

The details of this amazing story, a story that seems to contradict everything the NRA’s propaganda machine pumps out like a mass-murder unloading his AK-47 into innocent victims, I will let Lawrence O’Donnell present:

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Margaret Thatcher, R.I.P.

She was Britain’s first and only female prime minister and served longer in that capacity than anyone in the twentieth century. If that weren’t remarkable enough, the iconic Meryl Streep portrayed her in a major movie.

On Monday morning, as the news of her death broke, on MSNBC—what some, somewhat overstating the case, call the broadcast home of American liberalism—the Iron Lady’s death brought forth mostly effusive praise of her and her accomplishments. On Morning Joe again this morning, more praise.

I confess: when I was a conservative, she was one of my heroes. Okay, my heroine.

Thus, it is only fitting that the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, as historically important as it is, deserves more than hagiographic commentary, and Chris Hayes, new to MSNBC’s evening programming, did Thatcher’s legacy justice, at least from the point of view of a thoughtful liberal, in two segments:

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Finally, as only he can do, Lawrence O’Donnell put in perspective the important relative differences between British conservatism and American conservatism, differences overlooked by those who essentially put Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the same ideological boat:

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Madness

I have a 17-year-old son. He’s white, not black. Thus, he is less likely to get shot to death  in America.

Yet another African-American kid, this one also 17 years old, was killed in Florida, home of Trayvon Martin. And home of a very cruel experiment with a law savagely called, “Stand Your Ground.”

Here is a picture of the man accused of murdering the latest teenager, Jordan Davis, on Black Friday in November:

Take a good look at 45-year-old Michael Dunn. Around here where I live, he could be a neighbor, or, God forbid, a friend or a relative. Dunn, who lives in Satellite Beach, was in Jacksonville for his son’s wedding. He was on his way back to his hotel, with his girlfriend, when they stopped at a convenience store to get a bottle of wine.

Here’s how one television station reported the relevant facts:

Jordan Davis, 17, and some other teens were sitting in a SUV in a parking lot when Dunn parked next to them and asked the youths to turn down their music.

Jordan Davis and Dunn argued over the music, then Dunn, who is a gun collector, pulled a gun and shot eight or nine times, hitting Jordan twice, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

Jordan Davis’ father Ron Davis said his unarmed son died in the arms of a friend in the SUV.

It was Ron Davis who appeared, along with his son’s mother, Lucia McBath, on Lawrence O’Donnell’s Last Word last night.  There was obvious anguish. There was restrained outrage that television often produces.

The boy was listening to music. Perhaps the music was too loud. Perhaps it was offensive. Perhaps the teens acted rudely. But was the music so loud and so offensive that an allegedly rude teenager deserved the death penalty? Huh?

Even though police found no weapons in the SUV Jordan Davis was in, Michael Dunn, through his lawyer, will argue—is arguing—that he saw, “a shotgun coming over the rim of the SUV,” and “he knows a shotgun when he sees one because he got his first gun as a gift from his grandparents when he was in third grade.”

Is that when this madness starts? Third grade?

God, help us.

“A Day Of Shame”

I implore all of you, all of you who care about our once-cherished political institutions, to watch Lawrence O’Donnell’s “Rewrite” segment from Tuesday night’s program (posted below), a segment detailing the Senate’s rejection, by a vote of 61-38, of the United Nations treaty to ban discrimination against people with disabilities. The treaty, which was negotiated under and initially signed by George W. Bush, needed 66 votes to pass.

Missouri’s Republican senator, Roy Blunt, was in the minority, in the minority of “shame,” as O’Donnell, who worked in the Senate for seven years, would have it. So were both senators from Kansas. And bob dole in senate chamberboth senators from Oklahoma. This shameful minority is emblematic of what is wrong with the Republican Party, of what is wrong with a significant number of our fellow Americans who support such extremism and paranoia, as exhibited in that Senate vote.

Before you watch the segment below, I want to relate a personal note. My cousin, Larry, was afflicted with polio as a kid. I thought about him when I heard what Republicans did in the Senate on Tuesday.

More than twenty years ago, when I was a die-hard conservative, Larry sat in his wheelchair, in my living room, and explained to me why parking lot spaces, those closest to a building’s entrance, were rightly reserved for disabled folks and why that was a good thing. Why providing for unfettered access to sidewalks and buildings was also a good thing, and not a big-government infringement on liberty, as I then thought all such things were (yes, again, that’s why this is a “Blog of Repentance”).

Larry, who has since passed away, made me think, and then later convinced me, that I needed to enlarge my perspective and see things from the point of view of someone who had to maneuver through life over and around unnecessary obstacles, obstacles that could easily be removed out of respect for the dignity of folks who, for one reason or another, could not walk and thus could not surmount curbs and other ordinary, but artificial, barriers.

Yes, Larry made me think. And, God only knows, how much he made me re-think my extreme conservatism, how much he contributed to my release from the prison of reactionary philosophy. So, as you watch the following segment, know that, as I can testify, there is hope for those who disgrace themselves with obscurantist, right-wing zealotry:

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The NRA: “Defenders Of Movie Theater Mass Murderers”

 

If you didn’t see Tuesday night’s “Rewrite” segment by Lawrence O’Donnell, then you must. It is by far the best bionic elbow strike ever landed on the NRA and its $1,000,000-a-year  leader and “blood-drenched lobbyist” Wayne LaPierre. This is one of O’Donnell’s best:

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Should Democrats Allow Us To Go Over That Cliff?

On Wednesday night’s edition of The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell, brilliantly, suggested a Democratic strategy for winning the war on taxes, in terms of getting rates raised on the top two percent of wealthy Americans.

He simply urged Democrats to let all of the Bush tax cuts expire on January 1 (go “over the cliff”) and then immediately introduce a bill to cut taxes only for those making $250,000 or less, leaving the Clinton-era rates in place for the wealthy. He argued that given the Republican Party’s undying loyalty to Grover Norquist and his tax pledge, they would have no choice but to support the Democratic proposal. How could they defend not voting for a tax cut for 98% of Americans?

O’Donnell reminded viewers that they would have to tolerate a short period in January where their taxes would go up, but after the legislation passed they would get a retroactive refund of those increased taxes.

Now, as I say, this appears to me to be a brilliant strategy and one that has potential. My only concern is that those Bush tax cuts for everyone under $250,000 should not become permanent, but should be modified in the future, after the economy has sufficiently recovered, so as to  help get and keep our fiscal house in order.

Other than that, it may be a strategy that works, although as O’Donnell suggested, Democrats may not have the, uh, huevos to pull it off. We shall see, but it remains an interesting concept.

Romney And The NAACP

About Romney’s speech to the NAACP, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell told TheGrio’s Goldie Taylor the following on Wednesday:

Tell me, Goldie, if I’m being too cynical, to think that the Romney campaign actually went in that room today with the hope of getting booed, at least three times, because they want the video of their candidate being booed by the NAACP to play in certain racist precincts where that will actually help them.

There were other liberals, including Nancy Pelosi, who offered up the notion that Mittens had an ulterior motive when he went to Houston and deliberately used the word “ObamaCare,” as in,

I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like ObamaCare…

Pelosi said that Romney made a “calculated move” to “get booed,” which he most certainly got after the ObamaCare remark.  Now, I wasn’t one to initially and cynically think Mittens deliberately sought the disapproval of a room full of black folks in order to exploit white angst around the country.

But then I saw this report:

Mitt Romney says he wasn’t surprised by the chorus of boos he received Wednesday morning when he said in a speech to the NAACP National Convention that he plans to repeal President Obama’s national health care law.

“I think we expected that,” Romney said in a taped interview with Fox Business Network, scheduled to air Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Well, although I am normally quite ready to suspect the worst of Republican presidential candidates, I am not quite ready to believe that Mitt Romney went to Houston and exploited his father’s memory in order to appeal to American racists.  Romney said this to the group:

The Republican Party’s record, by the measures you rightly apply, is not perfect. Any party that claims a perfect record doesn’t know history the way you know it.

Yet always, in both parties, there have been men and women of integrity, decency, and humility who called injustice by its name. For every one of us a particular person comes to mind, someone who set a standard of conduct and made us better by their example. For me, that man is my father, George Romney.

It wasn’t just that my Dad helped write the civil rights provision for the Michigan Constitution, though he did. It wasn’t just that he helped create Michigan’s first civil rights commission, or that as governor he marched for civil rights in Detroit – though he did those things, too.

More than these public acts, it was the kind of man he was, and the way he dealt with every person, black or white. He was a man of the fairest instincts, and a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God.

I’m grateful to him for so many things, and above all for the knowledge of God, whose ways are not always our ways, but whose justice is certain and whose mercy endures forever.

I am sure the folks in the room would have been grateful if Romney had taken the occasion of mentioning his father’s civil rights work to assure black voters that he opposes Republican efforts to suppress their votes, as the party is doing all over the country. But, alas, he didn’t. And no one was surprised at that.

But as I said, I resist the temptation to question Romney’s motives in speaking to the NAACP. Did he deliberately go there to appear reasonable? Did he go there to stir up the crowd, hoping he would get some kind of outrageous response? (For the most part the crowd was quite respectful.) Beats me.

I am willing to leave it at this: After the speech, Romney said to Fox:

I am going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country…

Maybe Mittens really does think his top-down, give-the-rich-more economic philosophy will eventually trickle into black homes and help black families, as well as all Americans. And it is that delusion that I find ultimately more dangerous for the country, including all the folks who gathered in Houston to hear Mr. Romney speak.

“Lying Isn’t A Sin, It’s A Business Plan”

I have suggested that Mittens is a pathological prevaricator: “He lies when it would be so much easier not to.” But Lawrence O’Donnell in his “Rewrite” segment on Thursday night explains that there may be a method to the madness of Mitt’s mendacity:

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What Do We Make Of It All?

There it was. The headline many around here had hoped they would see:

From the beginning of his trial, delayed for years, there was no doubt as to Chris Collings’ guilt. He had confessed to the rape and murder of 9-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella, Mo., crimes he committed in November of 2007.

His lawyers admitted in court that he killed the little girl, after he had brutally raped her. Collings had confessed that he tried to keep his identity hidden from his victim, but the fourth-grader turned and saw him and for that he said he murdered her and threw her body down a hole, no doubt hoping the earth would swallow up his wickedness.

The only thing that his trial would ultimately decide was whether he would serve his impending sentence alive or dead.

I was reading the article in the Joplin Globe, awkwardly satisfied that justice had been done, thinking that Collings got what he deserved, despite my own misgivings about the death penalty, particularly those times it has victimized the innocent. This case was different, I kept telling myself. This man admitted he raped and killed the innocent little girl, and he deserved to die.

He most assuredly deserved to die.

Then I kept reading the story. I came to the part where the police chief of Wheaton, Clint Clark, who had known Collings since he was a boy, said this about the imposition of the death penalty in this case:

Either way would have been difficult,” Clark said of the jury’s two choices in the penalty phase, either life without parole or the death penalty. “I believe in God, and I believe what the Bible says, ‘An eye for an eye.’” He said it would have been a difficult decision for him to make, knowing Collings as well as he does, just as it was no doubt difficult for each of the jurors who made the decision. He said he can hate only what Collings did, and not the defendant himself, whom Clark has known most of his life.

“But I can’t look at my children without thinking of Rowan,” Clark said.

When I got to that part about the Bible and the “eye for an eye,” I cringed. Are we still meting out justice according to Iron Age theology? I asked myself.

It so happened that MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell discussed on Thursday the death penalty on his show, The Last Word. The gripping segment centered on the murder last April of James Craig Anderson in Jackson, Mississippi.  The 47-year-old African-American was intentionally run over by white, hate-filled racist teenagers in a pickup truck. The driver of that truck, Deryl Dedmon, pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering Anderson and to the commission of a hate crime.

Amazingly, James Craig Anderson’s family had asked prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty for Dedmon, saying in a letter:

Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well. Our Savior Jesus Christ rejected the old way of an eye for an eye and taught us instead to turn the other cheek. He died that we might have everlasting life and, in doing so, asked that the lives of the two common criminals nailed to the crosses beside him be spared. We can do no less.

There you have it. Good people citing “eye for an eye” in completely different ways, in the midst of horrific circumstances. What is one to make of it all?

O’Donnell, a fierce opponent of the death penalty, said this on Thursday:

The only way to completely prevent the possibility of executing the innocent is to oppose the death penalty in all cases. If you oppose the death penalty just for the innocent, that means you’re willing to leave the death penalty in place. And if you leave it in place, mistakes will be made. The real test of your opposition to the death penalty is the hard case.

No doubt, if you are an opponent of the death penalty, the rape and murder of little Rowan Ford here in southwest Missouri is a hard case. If ever anyone deserved to be executed by the state—by we the people—it is Chris Collings.

That is why the defense argued during the penalty phase that there were mitigating circumstances the jury should consider, before it pronounced the ultimate sentence on him.  Among those alleged mitigating circumstances, according to the testimony of a human development specialist that interviewed Collings, was emotional neglect both before birth and immediately after, as well as a number of “stressors” throughout his life that left Collings with a “disorganized attachment disorder” and “stuck at an emotional age of 14 or 15,” as the Globe’s Jeff Lehr reported it.

Lehr began his story on the first day of penalty-phase testimony this way:

The birth father of Chris Collings testified Thursday that he was drunk every day of the week about the time his son was born in 1975.

Dale Pickett, of England, Ark., admitted…that both he and Collings’ mother, Barbara, had issues with alcohol, although she was not as heavy a drinker as he.

“She couldn’t stand me drunk, and I couldn’t stand her sober,” Pickett summed up the relationship from the witness stand.

Chris Collings’ father spent time in prison for shooting a man he thought was having an affair with his wife.  Collings’ teenage step-brother testified that he took care of his younger sibling during that time and that their mother worked more than one job and drank and “beat on him for not keeping their house picked up and went after a guy who had been drinking with her with a butcher knife,” in Lehr’s account of the testimony. That led to placement of the two kids in foster homes, and then into other foster homes.

Seven-year-old Chris Collings was eventually adopted, but soon after that his adoptive parents separated and he “began getting shuttled back and forth between his adopted mother and father.”  Eventually an eighteen-year-old Chris Collings would resume a relationship with his birth father—then out of prison—who, as Jeff Lehr reported,

said his love for Chris endures despite alleged sexual contact of his son with his stepdaughter when she was between 11 and 14 years of age.

Asked about the murder of the Ford girl, Pickett said he knows his son made a mistake, but everybody makes mistakes.

What does one make of a man—whose son brutally raped and murdered a fourth-grader—who can summon from his mind only the word “mistake” to describe such crimes?

A few months before he raped and murdered Rowan Ford, Collings’ birth mother died. A few weeks before he raped and murdered Rowan Ford, his adoptive mother died. What was the jury to make of this and of all the other testimony meant to keep Chris Collings alive and in prison for the rest of his life?

As I said, what are we to make of it all? Are there any circumstances that help to explain such crimes?  Are there any adverse nurturing conditions that would convince a reasonable person to spare Chris Collings’ life?  Just what are the elements in one’s upbringing that conspire to create a murderous monstrosity like he most certainly is? And how much can we blame him for what he became?

I wish I knew the answers to all those questions. I wish this jury knew the answers. But what they did know, what we all know who have followed this case, is that “slender, brown-haired” Rowan Ford, who loved Hanna Montana and Jesus; who traveled the roads of Stella “on her blue-tinted Blossom Quest bicycle”; who “read voraciously, worked hard and was well-behaved,” suffered an unspeakable—and unimaginable—end to her life.

She died a most painful and terrifying death. She died sharing her last few minutes on earth with a perverted monster, the likes of which she would never have confronted in her worst nightmare. And the horror she faced, the absolutely dreadful savage that tortured her and murdered her, will one day, absent the suffering she endured, be put to death by our hand—yes, by our hand because we still approve of the death penalty—and I confess I can’t find it within me to protest.

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